Can you believe that just cooking brings so many new, good experiences, broadens the horizon and introduces new people? Here’s a video (https://youtu.be/zdEIFJwLzjs) that will give you a sense of the second leg of my Baking Blind world tour: Chongqing in China, Kiama, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia; Lilongwe in Malawi. It would be eye-opening if I could see!
Meanwhile, I’m still mulling over the huge contrasts of my week in San Francisco: staggering poverty amongst huge affluence – bad and ugly. It is supposed to be the most expensive place to live in America –paying $35 for a single plate of scallop risotto brought that home to me. And don’t forget the tip: one server wouldn’t leave until she’d got her’s and our usual 10% wasn’t enough. It was even worse because the £/$ exchange rate is so bad at the moment. But local people are also being hit hard ($45 for two cups of coffee and one hot chocolate) and none hit so much as those who live on the street. The number of homeless people was shocking: sleeping along the pavements of a main road through the city. But, worse still, was the plight of disabled people: over less than a mile, we spotted at least half a dozen homeless people in wheelchairs.
The most striking was the man who shared our bus: he seemed to have cut a shopping trolley in two and attached one half to the back of his wheelchair to store his cooking equipment. His sleeping mattress was folded behind his back like a great buffer to the world while the other trolley half, with his little dog and other belongings , was fastened to the front of his chair. He had a begging box and carefully seeded it with dollar bills to clearly indicate that small change wasn’t welcome. I would have been uncomfortable using his image except for his sign: his own political statement and he’s entitled to be heard. It was all rather distressing after fussing about the price of a meal and, perhaps, even more so when other Americans seemed to accept his situation as normal – the consequences of limited health and social security safety nets.
It would have been easy to scoff at the tourist side of the city but it all really worked for me. I literally rode the famous cable car by the seat of my pants: clanging up the steep inclines of Nob Hill on wooden benches so smooth with varnish that I was slipping from one end to the other (one way of amusing the other passengers). The pontoons of sea lions next to Pier 39 were multi-sensory: the sounds of their barks and sea plunges plus their salty animal smell. And, of course, I didn’t forget to try the famous clam chowder served in a sourdough loaf at the Boudin bakery – surprisingly satisfying. On the general food front, setting aside the cost, we learned that soups, salads and appetizers were more than enough – a starter of calamari turned out to be a huge plateful.
Two of the high spots were meeting up with people I’d met a year earlier. Luis, the super chef of seagrass sponge (https://youtu.be/uqRx8cGznGs) is shortly to appear in the sort of TV cooking show that’s only possible in California: competing to create the best dessert using marijuana! He didn’t win that time but I was able, at last, to give him a Baking Blind “medal”.
And it was a delight to share news with Ben and Blanche (saviours of our previous hotel hell) in a ferry trip to Sausalito. We passed the Golden Gate Bridge (apparently looking rather red and rusty) and Alcatraz Island (reportedly quite small with a tiny block building). This little town was a haven of tranquil Colonial style after the constant hustle and bustle of San Francisco where there are buildings so tall and thin that it seems a puff of wind would bring them down, let alone an earthquake.
A city of contrasts. You can see how it compares with Chongqing in China in the New Year.